The passion of Frederico Vigil

As Albuquerque turns 300, a gifted artist celebrates Hispanic culture in plaster and paint. Matthew Jaffe explores a one-of-a-kind work of art.

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Since he began work in 2002, Vigil has painted about 900 square feet of the 4,300-square-foot fresco. Near the tower's top, enormous hands, painted against a cobalt background, seem to reach inside through a skylight. Halfway down, a Madonna in gold-trimmed vestments stands beside a blazing sun, and nearby, a newborn infant is lifted toward the heavens.

The rest of the fresco remains a work in progress, curving walls covered with charcoal outlines. These depict imagery that will trace millennia of Hispanic civilization. Other sections will focus on the history of New Mexico. Vigil thought he would finish in three years; now he says he may not be done until 2009.

"Life has its own rhythm, and so does fresco," he says. "Try to speed it up, and it doesn't work. I can't rush it. And I'm not going to rush it."

Vigil, 59, grew up in Santa Fe, in the barrio along Canyon Road. Today Canyon Road is a major gallery center, but in his youth it was still unpaved, flowing like a river when it rained. His father, a barber, was always involved in building projects and encouraged his five sons to learn carpentry and masonry. Vigil believes that fresco's physicality drew him to the art form. "Fresco is manual and tactile," he says. "You have to use your body a lot."



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